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Robert's Rules of Writing #45: Keep the Faith

[Rule quoted from Robert's Rules of Writing: 101 Unconventional Lessons Every Writer Needs to Know by Robert Masello (Writer's Digest Books, 2005). See my original post for the rules of this discussion.]

Keeping the faith is sometimes the hardest thing to do.

Masello's rule #45 is primarily aimed at writers of longer works. It can literally take years to complete a book or screenplay. And during that time, you can start to have doubts about your work. He notes the importance of getting past those doubts and seeing your way through to a completed manuscript.

Although Masello doesn't say it, I believe that this same need to keep the faith also applies to those of us who concentrate on shorter works. Yes, in general there isn't as much time needed to complete a short story or even a novella, although as I've noted before, one of my novellas took me about five years to complete. (That wasn't all solid work, of course...) But when you're spending day after day pounding out short story after short story, collecting rejection slips, and hoping that one of them will eventually make it through the slush pile and into the magazine...well, it's not uncommon to become discouraged.

Of course, I do have some experience with Masello's rule when it comes to longer works as well. My first attempt to write a novel took about three years. I finished it in 2001, and it didn't sell to any publisher.

But because I kept the faith, I spent the year 2004-2005 doing nothing but writing another novel. I have no idea if that novel will ever sell, but in the meantime, among all the other writing projects and day-to-day life stuff, I've begun work on a third novel. It took me quite a few short stories before I began writing ones that sold; it's entirely possible that the same thing will be true for me when it comes to novels. But even if I never manage to publish a novel, as far as I am concerned, it will all have been worth it.

So how does one keep the faith? Masello's only real suggestion is to keep the image of the final published book in your head, and visualize yourself showing it to all your friends. I keep the faith by reminding myself that I do self-identify as a writer (among other things), and if I'm a writer, then I'd better write. But I'm curious about how other people do this, and am openly soliciting any advice people would like to share.

If you're a writer, how do you keep the faith?


This isn't specifically about keeping the faith, but your post prompted a question about longer works.

When you write something over a period of years, how do you go about preserving the "feel" of the piece, so that you end up with something that reads as well as if you'd written it in a week? How do you preserve mood/style in the piece, how do you keep track of the zillions of little things that you keep in mind when writing a short piece (but might lose on a longer piece), etc? Yes you can keep notes, but can and do you articulate all the themes, character views, etc that live in your mind when you write?

Or is all this something to be dealt with in the editing?
This question has a myriad of different answers, and it's probably too long to be dealt with here. In my case, I never really dealt with the question. The first novel I wrote just kept the same feel throughout. Other writers, though, have had other experiences. Lawrence Block told the story of how his life underwent a major upheaval in the middle of a book, and it took him months to get back to it. When he finally managed to complete the manuscript, it was seamless. He even told people the story and asked them to guess at what point his life changed, and everyone got it wrong.
I've been working on The Jonathan Chronicles since 1995, off and on. I tried to give myself a deadline by locking the action of the first installment in 1998 ... so that didn't help much.

But I'm not really self-identified as a Writer, so much; rather, this one story is the story I tell myself. Whenever my mind is idle, such as during the hour I spend driving to and from work, I'm visiting my characters and experiencing the emotions of their lives. In a way, it's a perpetual, self-generated bedtime story.

I keep the faith that I'll eventually get this all written down because this story is now at least as real to me as my own life is, and I can't bear the thought that these people will only ever exist in my head. I want to help them out into the world and share them. Trying to pull it out of myself and into written form is what I do with the little unassigned time I have. I will always have a purpose in my life, because even if I have nothing else, I'll need to get this done.
And one day, you will get it done. It will happen. I have faith.
I keep the faith by never deleting any story, no matter how crappy I think it is, and by going back and writing just a little bit more, or fixing a thing. Sooner or later that way I finish some story or other. I'm not trying to be published anywhere other than my site any more - that helps me keep going too, and so does writing the stories I need to tell, whether or not I think that anyone else ever will want to read them or like them if they do.

I'm glad that you're keeping the faith, and I wish you good fortune with your writing and publishing. :-)
I'm with michelel72 to an extent. The Great American Novel, in it's 3rd complete retelling (which itself began in 1997- kinda' sad to see that written that down), is the story I used to play through when I had free time or was by myself in the car, etc. I, however, totally self-identify as a writer... who hasn't written anything complete since 1998 or so... Can you even be called a writer when you have to output to speak of for 6 years?

In my only-recent defense, I have a 1 year old. That accounts for about 2 years of non-productivity (pregnancy and I did not get along). The remaining 4 years of writer inactivity I blame on my husband. I had plenty of me time to write before him. And, I was just angsty enough to write dark poetry and character pieces. The GAN stopped production when we started dating, in part because I couldn't access the darker place I had been writing from. Silly happiness! Keeping a writer down!

So, you ask how to keep the faith as a writer. I'm not sure how I do it. I mean, as I stated earlier, I still self-identify as a writer. And someday, I will finish the masterwork and see how much rejection I can withstand over it. I periodically think about writing even just a small piece to stay sharp, but time gets away from me and nothing gets put to paper. I have even ocassionally resorted to rereading my old (gasp!) fanfiction pieces, trying to find the inspiration that used to drive me to sometimes crank out a piece a week. Pieces that I am still basically proud of, even if they tend toward the Mary Sue or slash, just because they had a tone or structure I liked. Which was what I ultimately wrote them for- practice. Oh, and the instant audience on the message boards.

I guess that is what keeps me going. I had an audience once. And I still look back fondly on what I've written. So I'm a writer that produces absolutely nothing- now.
I do self-identify as a writer (among other things), and if I'm a writer, then I'd better write.

This line struck me as a self-identifying writer who really hasn't written (well, not any fiction, anyway) in quite a while. It's time to remedy that. Thanks.
Go write something. :-)

December 2016

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